Ideas to Impact Blog

Interview with Krysta DeBoer, Executive Director of the Center for Urban Teaching

About. CfUT was founded in 2001 at Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Lutheran College in response to the critical need for improved educational experiences for students in urban schools. With hundreds of alumni placed in schools, CfUT has continued to expand its reach in recent years.



Krysta-DeBoerMany Impact Fund donors are familiar with the Center for Urban teaching, but could you quickly introduce your mission for newer community members?

The Center for Urban Teaching exists to identify, prepare, and support high-performing urban teachers, leaders, and schools. Our vision is to become the number one provider of teachers and leaders that are better prepared, better retained, and better positioned to have an increased impact on student achievement. In alignment with our mission and vision, our Kingdom Purpose is to disciple and equip the next generation of teachers and leaders called to faithfully serve in our urban schools so that God is known through their words, actions, and character.

What has happened since the last time you spoke with the Brief?

Since we last spoke, we are proud to report that we have officially trained and placed more than 500 alumni in the Milwaukee area, including over twenty sitting principals, more than seventy percent of whom continue to serve over 25,000 scholars today.

Now that we have reached that mile marker, we are scaling up to serve other metro areas in Wisconsin, including Racine and Madison, while working to reach a goal of eleven percent representation in Milwaukee’s teacher and leader workforce. We believe that when we reach that, it will be a tipping point—providing proof of what is possible and creating a stronghold from which the beliefs and practices of our alumni teachers, leaders, and partners will catch like wildfire throughout our region.

Further, CfUT alumni are making a difference in urban classrooms. On the 2022 Wisconsin State Report Card, six of the ten highest-scoring Milwaukee schools were CfUT partner schools and summer school host sites, including Nativity Jesuit Academy, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran, Risen Savior Evangelical Lutheran, Mount Lebanon Lutheran School, St. Marcus Lutheran School, and St. Augustine Preparatory Academy.

Why are you personally so committed to making results like this happen?

I believe the commitment of individual teachers and leaders will transform not only our schools, but also our cities, our state, and our country. Teacher quality is the number one determining factor in student achievement. No matter what changes in our world, what new research is produced, that holds true. School leaders can further this impact by empowering teachers and retaining them in the field longer.


This impact extends far beyond the classroom. We know, for example, that even a one-year increase in schooling for high school dropouts can lead to a significant reduction in crimes such as murder, assault, larceny, and burglary. And often, whether or not that student remains in school is determined by what happens in the classroom.

There are four main factors that help people escape poverty: employment, education, relationships, and a vision for the future. And guess what? The teacher in the classroom can impact all of those things. They can provide the education that enables somebody to have the skills to seek employment, that gives them more opportunities for solid relationships, and that opens up other opportunities. Importantly, teachers can provide and help build a vision for the future. And ultimately, that relationship, that mentorship can inspire new ways of thinking and new connections that help a young person rise out of poverty.


One more key data point: High school dropouts live an average of 9.2 fewer years than their peers. So, when we help students stay in school longer, we’re adding both years and quality of life. At CfUT, we are a Christian-centered organization, so we’re not just impacting lives here on earth, we’re impacting eternities as well. Ultimately, we believe our teachers, our leaders, and our schools hold our children’s future in their hands. At CfUT, we get to help shape that future.

How do you help instill in those you recruit the virtues required to be a great teacher? How do you help them see it as a vocation?

First, we identify top teaching and leadership talent early. So, we look at people as early as their freshman year of college, and we’ve actually begun piloting work with several high schools to look at juniors and seniors who are interested in becoming teachers as well. For our leadership pipeline, we look at top performers as early as their second year of teaching, and we start vetting and preparing them for potential school leadership in the future.


Second, because we see teaching as a vocation, individuals in our pipeline are less likely to see this as just their next career move. They are encouraged to see teaching as a calling for such a time as this. The Center’s job is to equip them so that they have the staying power to fulfill that calling, which means helping them develop the “grit muscles” they’ll need to succeed in an urban classroom.

The third thing is that we invest in relationships. This means we focus on serving the person first and the professional connection second. So we spend a lot of time investing in people and their character development, because if you don’t own something, you can’t give it away. You need to develop your character if you want to lead students to be courageous. You yourself must have had opportunities to move forward in the face of fear. So, we really go deep with our candidates, not just from a skills standpoint but from a character standpoint, because who you are impacts what you do and what you believe impacts how successful your students will be in your classroom.

Once a candidate graduates, CfUT continues the relationship by walking with candidates from college to the classroom—providing at least two years of ongoing support to ensure their continued success and the success of their students. CfUT currently provides support to teachers and leaders in more than fifty schools in the Milwaukee, Racine, and Madison area through instructional coaching, professional development, and annual conferences. As a result of the intensive training and support received through the program, eighty-one percent of CfUT alumni continue to serve in urban schools for four or more years, whereas nationally over fifty percent of all teachers leave the field in the first five years and thirty percent leave after only one year.

Finally, we are practical. Experience is the best teacher, so a key component of our program is the summer school program, which provides participants the opportunity to put theory into practice. Schools give us the keys and the kids, so to speak—allowing our candidates to assume the full responsibility of what it means to be a teacher or a leader so that they can experience what it’s like in a first year of teaching or first year of leadership.

How do you develop and maintain that pipeline? What’s the special sauce there?

That’s a good question. In order to train the best, you need to hire the best. At CfUT who we hire is paramount. And, not surprisingly, our own pipeline is often the best source for our internal team as well. Many of the CfUT team members are alumni of the program themselves. In fact, if they haven’t yet gone through the program themselves, they will as part of our onboarding. Our summer school program provides teachers and leaders with the opportunity to put theory into practice. If we have a team member coming in and they haven’t gone through the program, the summer program is usually where they start so they can truly understand what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to prepare the next generation of teachers and leaders.

Above all else, we believe God called us and uniquely equipped our team to do this work, which shifts the conversation from career to calling. We embrace risk and face adversity with a reflective and optimistic attitude that is filled with a contagious hope, joy, passion, and energy. We remain laser-focused on our mission and vision, and we refuse to be distracted or pulled away from what God has called us to do.

teacher and students